Monday, February 22, 2010

Providing Value

Andrew Kakabadse, Professor of International Management Development in the School of Management at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, recently conducted a study of over 1200 boards from around the world. Fully 75% of those boards reported not knowing how they contribute value to their organizations. While sad, I am not surprised by this finding. The culture of most boards precludes engagement. And, if there is no engagement how can we expect anyone to have even a sense of belonging, let alone of providing import to the organization?

For instance, when was the last time your board was engaged in a substantive discussion? I don’t mean that the directors were asked to vote on a recommendation or to discuss the merits of the two companies submitting bids to fix the roof. Rather, they were expected to ask “What if…,” to explore working in tandem with a group that has always been seen as the competition or to consider how to turn a risk into a unique opportunity to move the organization forward?

I routinely ask boards with which I’m going to work to share with me their typical agenda. Most follow a format that is strong on reports. How much value can board members bring if all they are doing is listening to reports? What’s worse: reports focus on the past. Nobody can change the past. If you want board members to feel they are bringing value to your organization, you must engage them – their excitement, commitment and unique talents – around issues that they can impact. This requires providing them with the information they need or request, turning them loose to grapple with the issues and supporting their conclusions. If you have grounded your board around your organizational vision and values you have nothing to fear and much to gain.

There’s an old adage that, “If two people in business think alike, one of them is unnecessary.” We need the diversity of thought that our boards bring to the table. Our decisions become better. Best, the process cuts both ways. People who have had the opportunity to offer input feel valued.

But, all of this is for naught if we don’t share with our boards the results of their efforts. Otherwise, for all they know, they wasted their time in merely a mental exercise. If we want our boards to feel valued, we have to demonstrate that their product – their intellectual capital and their efforts – made a difference. And, it doesn’t hurt to thank them for that, either!

Partnership First Steps

Lately, we’ve been focusing on partnerships as a way to increase nonprofit resources. We developed a list of ideas to help the nonprofits we work with to expand their resources for mission. The suggested activities can help you to expand your resources too—and explore potential relationships. They all are geared to be short-term to “see how the relationship works,” and to establish trust. Here is one of them:

*Meet quarterly for one year to brainstorm topics for your monthly newsletter column and other places where you contribute regularly but often feel “stale” and short of ideas.

For a list of the 25 other ideas email me at Write “partnership list” on the reference line.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Positive Spin Blinds Group

Amidst the turmoil of a sudden forced resignation, a group lost an opportunity to receive a major grant. The donor asked for a document with a deadline that fell one week after the resignation. When the group subsequently did not receive the grant, they developed this explanation: “The donor did not give us enough time.”

Technically, this was true. More time would have allowed the group to comply. Underneath this positive spin, was the fact that the group, because of the resignation faced a leadership void at a critical hour. The spin blamed the donor. The spin, which over time became the organization’s reality, meant that instead of planning how to restore the donors trust in the organization, the group is blithely plans to apply again to this “capricious” donor.

By all means create a positive spin for the challenges you face, but avoid spinning so much that the dust you generate blinds you to reality and critical action steps.

Monday, February 8, 2010

New Nonprofit Definition

Someone Who Likes to Spread the Joy Around

A person who has grant or other nonprofit money to give and implies they might give it to you (and about five other local organizations.) Instead, they hold on to it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

After the Wedding

They made a gift-- a substantial one. Congratulations. You helped them to meet one of their goals. As a nonprofit leader, it’s huge part of our lives. In your donor’s life however, it may just be a good deed.

Since it is a huge part of our lives, it’s easy to forget that donors for the most part, are rarely “that” into it. They want to help. They may be pleased, happy and proud to help, but it is not their “be and end all.” Avoid setting yourself up for disappointment by expecting passion and commitment with a gift. When you find it, rejoice.